Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quick Update

I'm still using other than ideal computers these days and so this post will be brief. I've confirmed the next two Saturdays pouring wine. November 6th I'll be in the valley at the Carefree Art and Wine Shindig, and the 13th I'll be pouring apparently for Pillsbury AND Javelina Leap at the Cottonwood Walk on Main Street. As the old Firesign Theatre line goes, "how can you be in two places at once when you're really nowhere at all?" Beats me, but I'm sure it'll all work out.
Today The Kid and I are spiffing up the place in advance of the return home of She Who Must Be Obeyed, who yesterday, against the advice of EVERYONE who cares about her, hiked 25 miles and over 10,000 feet in elevation change from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. IN ONE DAY. She and a couple of friends started out from the North Rim at 5 a.m. in the dark and completed the rim to rim, topping out at the Bright Angel trailhead at half past midnight. She's going to be pretty hammered so we're thinking up a good dinner and of course celebratory adult beverages to help soften the aches she'll no doubt have.
I'll be posting more when the laptop gets fixed and the next two festivals get closer. I suppose I should mention Halloween, 3rd place in my list of the top 3 unnecessary and annoying holidays, right after Easter and Valentine's Day. Anyone over the age of 10 who still enjoys these holidays should do some serious soul-searching. There. I mentioned it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What wine goes with fried hard drives?

I'd say a nice heavily oaked Chardonnay, to match the puckered up face you're already making when your computer takes a serious dump. I bought my laptop from a neighbor friend who had babied it since it's birth in 2003. Pristine in all respects. A 17 inch aluminum Powerbook for next to nothing was too good to pass up. It does everything I need it to do, runs Photoshop, iDVD, iMovie, and burns (cough) "archival" copies of movies that I of COURSE own. The downside risk of course was the fact that Apple had some hard drive issues with these machines when they first came out and ended up replacing so many failed drives that they changed suppliers. This one had it's original drive and I figured that the only reason it'd never failed is because it'd been babied it's entire life and never put under stress. So I bought it knowing there was a possibilty it would soon fail, as I had some serious stressing planned for it. It did. So now, while waiting for a new drive to arrive after I ordered the wrong one this week, I'm forced to use my old frustratingly slow desktop or my wife's Win-Doze netbook with it's teeny tiny itty bitty very small microscopic screen and 3 year old child sized keyboard. Computer use is no longer fun and won't be until I get my new drive and get it into the Powerbook. It'll be next week before I post again I'll bet.
Anyhow, I went to Javelina Leap yesterday and met with owner/winemaker Rod Snapp, who was outside staring at the cloudy skies and fretting about his newest crush, which he had just put to fermentation. Except the yeast wasn't cooperating. It was too cool. Rod does some of his fermentation outside, his production having outgrown his indoor space for vats. He was contemplating a trip to town for heaters and tarps to up the temp on his vats a few degrees. This morning it's even cooler and still cloudy, so I'll be that yeast in those vats is still sleeping soundly, unless it's had a little fire lit under it's butt.
Rod and I had a great chat, it turns out we've some things in common. He's an ex cook too. He worked at the Oak Creek Owl a few years after I worked at Rene at Tlaquepaque. He knows the San Juan River country well, having done several trips on the lower end years ago. He spent several years cooking at the Grand Canyon too.
He's having a staff meeting this weekend and after that he'll have an idea what kind of help he's going to need, so we'll be chatting again in a week or so. He was real pleased to hear that I'd like to work two to four days a week. Apparently he's got several employees who only put in one day a week and he's not happy with that situation. Personally, seems to me like working one day a week you'd almost have to relearn how to do the job every time you came to work. Anyhow, he needs help at The Walk on Main, so I'll need to decide where I'm working that day. Choices choices....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Cottonwood Airport Thing

As I mentioned previously, I worked this past weekend for Arizona Stronghold and Page Springs Cellars at the wine tent at the Cottonwood AirFest or whatever it was called. I didn't have a great feeling about this one before hand. I'd tried my hardest to find any online advertising for it, and only managed to come up with one little blurb in the Verde Independent. There was a poster down at Cottonwood City Hall, so at least the three ladies who work there knew about it, but they apparently hadn't taken advantage of viral marketing through social network websites and spread the word.

It was an old car old airplane oh yeah and there's a wine tent too kind of affair. Some nice old cars and planes, but the crowd that did show up had clearly come for the motorized portion of the event and walked right past the wine tent. The biggest news of the day was the mid air collision of an ultralight aircraft and a hot air balloon. It's still front page news on the Independent's webpage linked above.

By 2 p.m., the old geezers with the old cars had all gone home for their naps, the planes had stopped buzzing around and H and H barbecue had cleaned out their greasetraps and packed it in. I didn't even get a plate of their tasty burnt ends. We called it quits by 2:30. The wine tent was a new addition and whoever had put on the show hadn't charged the wineries for table space this year, so nobody was really put out for much.

It did give me a lot of schmooze time. One thing that's great about these shows is during down time, the people running the various tables have a chance to visit with others and everyone is happy to pour samples of their best offerings. A very nice perk, you ask me. I had the opportunity to meet with Rod Snapp and his wife Cynthia. Rod needs some help at Javelina Leap and when he found out I could tell excrement from Shinola and had the time and interest, he invited me to come and talk with him this week about possibly working for him. I'll get over there tomorrow or Thursday.
I put a few slides up, they're mostly of cars and planes and a few are of winesellers with few or no customers. I'm looking forward to the Walk on Main, November 8th. I think I'll be working the street booth with Pillsbury, unless Javelina Leap has stolen me away.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Branching Out

The wine community here is a pretty small and pretty clannish bunch it seems. Who's involved with what winery seems to be in a state of constant change. Page Springs Cellars and Arizona Stronghold it turns out contacted Pillsbury looking for staff to work their tables at this Saturday's Cottonwood Airport Airplane-Old Car-Wine event. So, I get to go to Page Springs tomorrow morning and to the Arizona Stronghold tasting room in the afternoon to do homework for their wines. I've been hoping for a way to spread myself around a bit and learn some more wines, so this is a little stroke of good luck. Page Springs is Eric Glomski's enterprise and the Stronghold is a collaboration between Glomski and Keenan, or something like that. Their tables will be together. I don't know if Caduceus is also involved or will be separate. I'll be writing up tomorrow's tastings and the event itself in the coming days. Stay thirsty.

Monday, October 11, 2010

24th Anniversary, Dinner at Home

  After discussing going out to celebrate our anniversary, SWMBO and I decided to stay home. Figuring the places where we'd have liked to eat are closed on Monday, and even if we found one open it'd be too late after I got done with chores and came in to clean the delicate aroma of Toggenburg Buck in full rut off every square inch of my body. 
  So dinner tonight wasn't rib steaks, it wasn't king crab, or lobster or anything remotely fancy or foo foo. It was a cut up 4 pound fryer, marinated all day in buttermilk and spices, rolled in seasoned flour and panko bread crumbs and fried, mom style until it was golden brown and crunchy as all get out. Garlic mashed potatoes with sweet butter and pecorino romano, forget the gravy, and homemade cole slaw. 
  The wines? Page Springs Cellars Vino del Barrio Blanca. A white table wine listed as containing Muscat, Chardonnay, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier and Roussanne grapes. It's a pretty nice wine in the 17 dollar neighborhood, but there's a bit of unfulfilled promise. The fruit and flowers of the Malvasia Bianca comes right up in front on the nose but is nowhere to be found on the palate. The Chardonnay is the most apparent. I'm not a huge Chardonnay fan, especially the California types that have been oak aged. This one isn't oaked though, and the grassiness of the grape isn't obscured by wood. A nice drink with the chicken.

  For dessert we opened the bottle of Keeling-Schaefer's Turkey Creek Caldera. It's pure Sirah and checks in at 18.5% alcohol. Chocolate, dark fruit, raisins, perfect sweetness, just shoot me. A tiny glass is all you need. 

  Once in a great while the weather will conspire to cause an excess formation of raisins on the vine before the harvest. Too many raisins means less juice and higher sugar content. Higher sugar means higher alcohol and sweeter wine. Winemakers will sometimes try to salvage their harvest by making a dessert wine from this kind of crop. They may get lucky and end up with a port-like hit, or flop with an MD 20-20 style bomb. This one's a hit. We realized how good a little piece of good dark chocolate would go with this, and so put it away till we're better prepared. So many of these wines are in short supply, I'm going to start keeping an eye out for a special red, white and dessert to put away for next year's quarter century anniversary. Shoot, maybe I'll go all out and make gravy. 

Just a short rant about the Page Springs Vino's name. What is it about these people who want to affect Spanish names for their wines (not to mention their housing subdivisions, shopping centers and whatever else) but can't be bothered to GET THE SPANISH RIGHT??
The best translation of "Vino del Barrio Blanca" is "Wine of the white neighborhood". Is that really what they wanted to say?? My guess is they actually wanted to say something like "Neighborhood white wine". A much better name would be "Vino Blanco del Barrio". Wherever they decide to put the adjective "white", it needs to agree with the noun "Vino" and end with an O. Given the number of easily available native Spanish speakers around here, this mangling of the language is really unacceptable. There. I'm all done now.

Hopi Mystery Grape Update

  This is exciting, in a nerdy sort of way. I emailed UC Davis dept. of AG viticulture department today. I didn't know who exactly to email, so I just sort of pulled an email address out of the list on their incredibly informative website. I didn't get the right person right off the bat, but got a nearly instant reply from the person I'd mailed, saying he would copy the mail to Dr. Andy Walker, their grape geneticist. The person I mailed said "If there is anyone in the country who can identify your grapes, Andy can, usually on sight." In about 10 minutes, here comes a mail from Dr. Walker him/herself, excited to help me out. Instructions on what to photograph, where to cut samples and how to ship them to UCD. Tomorrow's task is to get in touch with my brother in law Steve and get him going on photos and samples. Dr. Walker is particularly excited about the possibility that these may be Mennonite grapes, as there is little documentation of eastern native grape varieties this far west until well after the turn of the century.
  Funny footnote, I got another mail from someone at UCD in the same department. She wished me well on my quest and finished up by saying "Isn't there a winery in Cornville? I remember hearing about a couple of guys there trying to grow grapes and make wine, or something."
Stay tuned.....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Recipe to go with Caduceus Chupacabra

While I'm waiting to get a chance to check out Harry's Hideaway and get ready for this weekend's winefest at the Cottonwood Airport, I thought I'd share tonight's dinner. Chupacabra wants big, rich, greasy heavily spiced flavors. Tonight we had a braised breast of lamb with a bottle of Chupacabra. Breast of lamb, if you can find it, is silly cheap. Less than two bucks a pound. I actually found mine at WalMart. Safeway, Fry's, Basha's all sell New Zealand or Australian lamb and only normally partially boned leg roasts. Maybe an occasional shank, but never breasts. WalMartWorld actually sells real American Lamb, and they have interesting cuts. I despise their beef, but hey, U.S. Lamb? My new favorite meat market. A whole two piece braised breast will feed 4. Be advised that you'd better like lamb fat; the breast is easily 50/50 fat to meat. The meat is tough as all get-out, until you braise it. After you braise it with vegetables for several hours, it falls off the bone and the vegetables turn into sort of a confit underneath it. A few slices of real tomatoes, or some melon, something acidic on the side in other words is all you need.
So take a breast, which will usually come in two pieces. Cut each piece in half making four pieces. In a big, heavy skillet that has an ovenproof lid, heat up a tiny bit of olive oil till it's almost smoking. Salt and pepper the meat and add it fat side down to the pan. Brown it until it's almost burnt or the smoke alarm goes off, whichever comes first. While it's browning, chop up a couple of carrots, at least a half head of celery, a big sweet onion and peel but do not chop 6-8 garlic cloves.  Also mince about 2 tablespoons each of fresh oregano, rosemary and sage. Preheat the oven to about 325.
When the lamb is brown on the fat side, flip it and brown that side. When it's brown, pour off some or all of the fat. Don't worry, there'll be plenty more. Sprinkle the minced spices evenly over the meat and add the chopped up vegetables, pushing them into the pan and around the meat pieces. Fill the skillet up to almost the top of the meat with red wine or stock but don't cover the meat. I use a half and half mixture of wine and chicken stock.
Turn the fire up to high and bring the pan to a full boil, then cover it and put it in the oven. Let it braise for about 2 and a half hours, checking it a couple of times to add more stock or wine as necessary to keep it moist. Serve a portion of the cooked down vegetables topped with one of the lamb pieces and whatever acidic side you've decided on. A simple salad would work well. Some chunks of ciabatta bread to mop up the glorious goop and you're all set. Chupacabra, Ray's Red, Javelina Leap's peppery Zinfandel; any of them will stand up well to this rich supper.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Drink Pink?

  I don't know what to think of this, other than maybe it's a good way to sell a bit more wine. It seems Arizona Stronghold has jumped on the Drink Pink campaign. If you're unaware of this campaign, here's how it works. You buy a participating company's product during the month of October and they donate a usually unspecified "portion of the proceeds" to the Susan G. Komen research outfit.
  Isn't alcohol a risk factor in the development of breast cancer? What am I missing here? How 'bout this, I'm going to start the Goatherder Campaign to End Lung Cancer. My symbol will be a brown ribbon. Can't use pink, that color's taken. A nice mahogany brown, the color of a heavy smoker's lungs. Then I'll get the tobacco companies to jump on board and donate a portion of the sale of their cigs as part of a Smoke Brown campaign. Drink to end breast cancer, smoke to end lung cancer. Seems reasonable to me!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stay With Me!

Sidetracked by the weather yesterday and sidetracked by a sick doe today. Once I get her sorted out I'm planning a trip to Javelina Leap for a tasting. My dear spouse, She Who Must Be Obeyed, is finally home for a weekend and I'm gonna take her with. Hopefully tomorrow, but realistically more like Saturday. We're also going to have a chance to try out Harry's as there'll be somebody home to go get the grub before they close. It's going to have to be takeout I'm afraid, unless we can swing a lunch date. Yeah, a lunch date. We'll do that. Takeout's not a good way to get a first impression of a new place.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sidetracked by The Weather

I don't know that in my nearly 6 decades I've EVER been under a tornado WARNING before, but i am now and have been since 4:30 or so. My pal Johnny Montezuma calls me at 4:45 this morning from his summer camp in Idaho Falls (aka Mayberry West) as I'm groggily listening to hail beat against the bedroom window. "Did you know you're under a tornado warning? Not a watch, a WARNING?" Holy crap. Thunder, lightning close, wind is whipping hail against the windows. Little hail thank god, not like the ice-cube sized stuff they got in Phoenix yesterday.

I put on the slicker and muck boots and head outside with the flashlight to check on the goats and sheep. Everybody is under cover and dry, but clearly not happy about this turn of events. It's close to breakfast time and they already know they're gonna have to wait. Bawling their general dissatisfaction with every aspect of their miserable existence at me. Taking their frustrations out on each other; there are already some bloody heads I'll have to spray with BlueKote later. Back inside to check the NOAA radar page for Cornville. Guess I'm not going to Javelina Leap today. The grape harvest is in for the most part in our neck of the woods, but there are still a few vineyards that have late maturing varieties yet on the vine. Here's hoping they've not suffered any damage.

It's 10 after 9 now and new warnings are popping up on the radar. At this moment we are just east of one and it's trending our way. It's guaranteed that somewhere in this valley, some fool is at this very moment saying "but we NEED the rain". Of course we need the rain. It's a desert for pete's sake. We always need the rain. Nothing like overstating the obvious.  I'm sure the trees are real happy, at least the ones that don't get torn from their comfy spot in the earth and sent flying onto some unsuspecting person's roof. This isn't Kansas, we don' need no steenkeeng tornadoes!
The black dot just west of the center of the image is about where we are.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Hopi Grape Mystery

My brother-in-law is a traditional Hopi farmer in the village of Moencopi on the Hopi Reservation. He's also a conservationist interested in traditional crops and heritage plants of all kinds. There have always been old grape vines growing on the periphery of the terraced fields at Moencopi. In recent memory, nobody paid them much attention and they languished, but given the tenacity of grapes, especially old vines, they've stayed alive. My brother-in-law, curious about them, began to prune his and feed them a bit and they are responding to the attention by making fruit. He describes them as pretty thick skinned, not particularly sweet. Hmmm...sounds to me like they might be wine grapes. The skin to pulp ratio is much greater on wine grapes, table grapes having thinner skins, and more juicy pulp. I know, it's counterintuitive, but that's how it is. Wine is much more dependent upon a grape's skin that it's pulp.
I've found references to Hopis having grown grapes for generations. It's generally believed that the little stunted peach and apricot trees found all over Hopi are descended from cuttings brought by the Spanish and cultivated there ever since. The Spanish were expelled during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but their crop introductions had been found useful by the Hopi and remained. Anyone with even a whiff of Southwestern historical knowledge also knows that the Spanish carried grape cuttings with them pretty much wherever they went. There's no substitute for communion wine, and if you're going to establish a community and show the heathen savage the error of their spiritual ways and bring them into the Body of Christ, you gotta have vino.
There is every indication that these MAY be the descendants of Spanish grapes. If that's the case, they're no doubt related to the Mission Grapes of California, which are disappearing. The Mission Grapes made pretty low quality wines and today's modern wine industry in California isn't based on them. These grapes would be an historical footnote and a curiosity, not much more. There's also the possibility that they could be Mennonite grapes. Mennonite missionaries came to the Hopi villages in 1892 and there was a Mennonite mission in Moencopi until the mid 1980's. I'm thinking though, that it's unlikely that Mennonites would have planted wine grapes.
So in short, I'm going to endeavor to get these grapes identified. The first step will be to get some proper cuttings this winter when they're dormant. I've also been advised to get in touch with UC Davis' AG department, where they've done lots of grape research. I need to find out what kind of tissue samples they need and who to send them to. Details, details. It should be an interesting project. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Visit To Freitas Vineyard and Winery

The view from Ray Freitas' patio, across some of her vines to the winery below

  The harvest is finished, the grapes are in the vats and Ray Freitas is on her way to completing another batch of her award winning estate wines. Ray invited my son and me to visit the winery and vineyard yesterday. We spent about two fascinating hours and could have spent many more as Ray and her son walked us through the entire process of making wine, from harvest, thru crush, vinting, pressing, barrel aging, bottling and storage.
  Walking into the winery the first thing that hit me was the incredible yeasty smell. I've been to breweries many times. When you enter a brewery, the smell is very much like walking into a bakery. Immediately comforting, warm. A winery is different. First off, it's cold in there, or at least cool. Secondly, the yeast is much more intense and fermenting fruit smells decidedly more intense, sharper in the nose, than fermenting grain.
  We spent quite a long time watching Ray and her son test the brix level and Ph of her two vats of fermenting Cab. It's almost ready for pressing and barrel storage. We got to help with the "punch down". The CO2 produced by the fermentation process causes the berries to rise to the surface of the juice and form a cap, which if not broken up and punched down every 4 hours will effectively seal the top of the must and slow down the fermentation process. I got to sample the raw must, swish and spit only of course. A taste of wine in the making. Definitely wine, but not quite. Like looking at an ultrasound of a child in the womb. My son remarked "this vat is like an ecosystem, a living thing". Very true. I was able to taste her Malvasia Bianca, which is still in stainless steel and not ready yet. Her last Malvasia Bianca was voted Best AZ White at a prestigious judging in Phoenix in 2009, and if my scortched palate is any guide, this one's going to be a winner too. The essence of tropical flowers hits your nose right up front. Watch for this wine. I actually got to DRINK a whole glass of the new Ray's Red, and it's going to be better than the current one I think. It's still in the steel, but is ready to be bottled.
  My son, ever the chemist and artist, asked Ray "how can a person learn about this? How could someone apprentice at this?" Uh-oh, I knew he'd find it fascinating. A budding winemaker? Who knows?
  We're hoping to go back after frost and the vines go to sleep and learn something about the viticultural end of things. Pruning and caring for the vines themselves in anticipation of bud-break in the spring. I'm thinking a viticulturist looks forward to bud-break in much the same way we look forward to kidding season, filled with hope, anxiety and anticipation.
  All in all it was a great afternoon and Ray and her son couldn't have been more gracious to a couple of rubes like us. We're looking forward to lots more visits. Here's a quick slideshow of a few pics we took.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Blood Into Wine

  Maynard Maynard Maynard all you hear around here when it comes to wine is Maynard Maynard Maynard. I guess I'm guilty of it too. I watched Blood Into Wine last night. It's an edgy, hip documentary of sorts that chronicles Maynard James Keenan's entry into winemaking in the Verde Valley. It's available on Netflix. I enjoyed it and found it in some ways enlightening. I didn't know, for example, that Merkin actually has a vineyard up on the steep slopes near Jerome. It's fairly informative regarding the partnership between Keenan and Eric Glomski, from whom Keenan has learned to grow grapes and make wine. But it's really all about Maynard and that's where it runs into problems. While Glomski's in the film almost as much as Keenan and he does have a chance to talk about himself and his history in the wine world, he comes off most of the time as a sort of weasely sidekick to Keenan. The film doesn't go out of it's way to explain that Glomski is THE creative force behind Keenan's wines. In the beginning, Glomski MADE Keenan's wines. Keenan is far from the only person who's been helped by Glomski. There are a number of other winemakers for whom Glomski has in some way been partner, mentor or inspirational guide.
  Without actually coming out and saying so, the film leaves you with the definite impression that M. J. Keenan discovered the Verde Valley and decided it would be a good place to grow grapes and make wine and then went out and found Eric Glomski and learned how to grow wine, thereby starting the wine boom here. The truth is a bit different. There were several others successfully growing grapes here and producing wine before Keenan came on the scene, but none of them are as "interesting" as Keenan. None of them are dark, troubled rock stars. None of them that I've met so far wear their passion like a wiccan  tattoo across their forehead like Keenan does, at least in the film. No, they're happily and busily pursuing their art and craft without the recognition of a hip documentary film. Somebody should make one about THEM, but there's the rub; who'd watch it? I would. I sure would.
  Blood into wine is film worth watching. I watched it with glass of Paisano. It seemed to me that watching it with a glass of Chupacabra would have been too much like drinking the Kool-Aid. It helped me stay grounded, skeptical.
  This guy makes some good wines, and the film is worth checking out for anyone with an interest in wine from this region. Just be careful you don't find yourself getting another tattoo and chanting Maynard Maynard Maynard.